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Is Agile 'Porter for Dummies’? – Agile Program Management Blog



By Bronte Jackson

This is the question I had at the end of the first day of my Agile Program Management training (APMG accredited).    Why are we still having to talk about management of programs/projects or organisations as needing to start with a joint vision, objectives and a strategy? Why are we still having to learn about the importance of engaged stakeholders, delegated decision making, skills and structures that facilitate fast delivery, and how to divide that up into timely segments with rough costs and estimates to operationalise our goals and dreams?  Didn’t we already learn that in the 1990’s?  Have we as Management Consultants and practitioners failed to get these points across after all this time?
‘Top management can facilitate inter-relationships by emphasizing cross-unit collaboration …… and taking steps to build a strong sense of corporate identity.’ (Porter, 1987)
‘The challenge of developing or re-establishing a clear strategy is often primarily an organisational one and depends on leadership.’ (Porter, 1996)
‘…..there needs to be ongoing effort to extend a company’s uniqueness while strengthening the fit among its activities.’  (Porter, 1996)
‘The “five forces” identified by Porter two decades ago still matter ……… but the nature and ferocity of business competition has changed, and business strategy has to be updated to keep pace’. (Esty & Winston, 2006)
So why are we still struggling to action this?  And why are we embracing the Agile principle that ‘Program and project goals must be clearly aligned to business strategy’, like it’s a newfound religion that will finally get us the innovation, benefit realisation, and happy and engaged stakeholders that we have always dreamed of?
As I looked at the Agile principles (below) and how they applied to Program Management I only had more questions.

  • Why is it often so difficult for organisational initiatives to come together in alignment rather than compete against each other, use and deplete the same stakeholders, or cancel each other out because of bad timing?
  • Why is governance so often not about creating a coherent organisational capability but about governance of a project or program in isolation?
  • Why is it difficult for organisations to realise benefits incrementally and early, to delegate decision making to the lowest level, and to be iterative?
  • Why have the principles of working together and allowing progress to flow rather than be controlled been so difficult to implement?
  • Why have these Agile principles resonated so well with so many?

Because they address an age old principle that we are still learning to put into practice.
When auditors are called in to investigate or analyse the health of an organisation they follow the money.  Where does the money come from?  Where does it lead?  Where does it go?  These questions help to analyse the organisations priorities and whether they align or are congruent with what the organisation says it stands for.  The answers give clues as to what is really going on and how to deal with it.
Social Anthropologists follow power.  Where does the power sit in an organisation and what happens with it?  Who has it and what do they do with it?  Who has the power, is it the customer or the shareholders?  Is the locus of control internal or external? Do those with power work towards aligning their organisational initiatives to the business strategy or do they seek to compete with each other by coming up with better ways of doing things in order to keep their project alive?  Do they seek to create a coherent capability through their governance or do they compete for resources against other organisational initiatives, and do they have to because adequate resources have not been allocated from an enterprise perspective?  Are executives rewarded for how well they coherently integrate and align or how cheaply/quickly they deliver on their part alone?  If it is the latter, then devolving power to the lowest decision making level, iterative planning, allowing small progress and benefits to be realised, and using feedback to influence further planning, will be difficult (because in this type of culture it is a perceived loss of power).
Studying where the power is in an organisation and how it is used tells me how successful an organisation will be in achieving its goals whatever management tool, methodology or philosophy they use.
With my training as a Social Anthropologist and as a result of my Agile Program Management training I now have some more questions.

  • Is Agile the early 21st century attempt, by those who are closest to the customer and the operational problems, to get Executives to let go of obstructive power?
  • Is Agile a new road map for a new century (the disruptive one), so that leaders can feel safe by having a line of sight down into what their teams are actually doing?
  • Is Agile a plea to leaders to focus on designing the vision, identifying the benefits, and setting up and resourcing the organisation appropriately so that those with the technical skills (HR, OD, Change, Finance, IT, Marketing, Operations), and capability, can successfully deliver on them?

I hope so.  I hope that Agile succeeds in getting the message across.  The thing that all our management research and data has said for nearly half a century now.
Start with what you want to achieve, agree on it, create some measurable goals, put a plan into place, resource it, lead it, and allow your people to action it.  Review and repeat.
Onwards and upwards brothers and sisters!


Attend MetaPM’s fully accredited  AgilePgM® – Agile Programme Management course today!

The Agile Programme Management Foundation Course is a fully accredited programme management methodology intended for organisations delivering transformative change programmes in which organisational strategy is complex and evolving and/or in which some or all projects are agile, both in the private and public sectors.
For more information on the course, CLICK HEREabout

Porter, Michael E., ‘What is strategy?’, Harvard Business Review, Vol 74, No.6, 1996, pp. 61 – 78, p.77
Porter, Michael E., ‘From competitive strategy to corporate advantage.’, Harvard Business Review, May-June 1987, pp. 43 – 59, p.57
Esty, Daniel C., Winston, Andrew S., Green to Gold.  How smart companies use environmental strategy to innovate, create value, and build competitive advantage. Yale University Press, 2006, p.98

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